Articles > How to Eat Healthy: Use The Whole Life Plate™

How to Eat Healthy: Use The Whole Life Plate™

how to eat healthy plate with salmon, farro, chickpeas, avocado, green salad, and olives

If you are looking for a guide on how to eat healthy in a simple, straightforward way, you are in the right place. The Whole Life Plate™ is not a diet plan. It is a way of life.

Using The Whole Life Plate™ as a visual guide will improve your health and help you feel better. 

What is The Whole Life Plate™?

The Whole Life Plate™ is a healthy plate model, inspired by both USDA’s MyPlate and Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate. We added a few of our own touches based on the latest research and our experience working with groups and individuals. The Whole Life Plate™ is a visual guide for how to eat better at every meal that includes healthy portions of food groups, as well as lifestyle guidelines.

Healthy plate image divided into five sections: non-starchy veggies, fruits, whole grains and starchy veggies, protein foods, and fats/oils

Healthy Plate Portions

Notice that The Whole Life Plate™ promotes a plant-forward lifestyle; the majority of the plate is filled with plant foods! Let’s review all the components of the plate, starting with non-starchy veggies. 

Non-Starchy Veggies

Nearly 90% of the US population does not meet daily vegetable intake recommendations, nor do they eat a variety. (1) Why is this a problem? Well, eating vegetables can truly save your life. Different vegetables provide different nutrients, and all can help reduce inflammation and prevent or manage many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

Here are some helpful tips for increasing your non-starchy vegetable intake:

  • Fill more than ¼ of your plate with non-starchy vegetables.
  • Color is key. Eat the rainbow. 
  • Aim for at least three cups of vegetables per day.
    • Two cups of leafy greens = one cup of fresh.

Whole Grains and Starchy Vegetables

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans places starchy vegetables in the vegetable food group and grains in its own food group, but we believe the two should be combined when meal planning. After all, they are both starchy foods. (1)

Whole Grains

Most Americans meet recommendations for total grain intake. However, only 2% eat enough whole grains and 74%consume too many refined grains. (1)

Why focus on whole grains? Eating whole grains decreases the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and colorectal cancer; promotes weight maintenance; and lowers inflammation. (1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)

Starchy Veggies

Children and adolescents consume more starchy vegetables than any other vegetable, but they are typically fried or cooked in butter and with lots of salt (i.e. potato chips and french fries)! (1)

Starchy vegetables are rich in health-promoting phytonutrients, vitamins, and minerals and can help prevent disease. When prepared in healthful and flavorful ways (i.e., not deep fried), they can certainly be a part of a balanced diet, hence their spot on The Whole Life Plate™.

Here are some helpful tips for improving your whole grain and starchy vegetable intake:

  • Fill ¼ of your plate with whole grains or starchy vegetables.
  • If serving grains and starchy vegetables in the same meal, make sure that, combined, they still only cover ¼ of the plate.
  • Make at least ½ of your grains whole. Whole grains offer more nutrition, but refined grains can still have a place in a balanced diet.
  • If it’s fried, it doesn’t count as a vegetable!

Fruits

Including at least two servings of fruit per day can help you live a longer, healthier, and happier life. (14, 15) Fruits lower the risk of depression and major chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and obesity. (14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20) And yet, only 20%of the US population eats enough! (1)

Here are some helpful tips for increasing your fruit intake:

  • Fill slightly less than ¼ of your plate with fruit. 
  • Fruit contains natural sugar, which should not be confused with added sugar.
  • Aim for at least two total cups of fruits per day.
    • ½ cup dried fruit = one cup whole.
  • Just like vegetables, color is key. Eat the rainbow!

Protein Foods

Protein is a combination of building blocks called amino acids, which our bodies need for a variety of functions: hormone production; nutrient transport; immune support; water balance; pH regulation; enzyme creation; muscle maintenance; healthy hair, skin, and nails; and energy production.

Despite what trendy nutrition shops, fitness enthusiasts, or “health” aisles at the grocery store may suggest, you are probably consuming enough protein. The majority of Americans’ protein intake comes from red meat, poultry, refined grains, dairy, and processed meat. (21) Although none of these foods are necessarily “bad” when included in a balanced diet, many of them provide excess saturated fat, sodium, and refined carbohydrates to the diet, which may have negative health consequences.

The Whole Life Plate™ encourages you to focus on the source and quality of the protein. Most Americans do not eat enough beans/peas/lentils, fish, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, which are also quality protein sources. (1, 22)

It is important to include protein in meals and snacks because protein promotes satiety, regulates appetite, and can help control blood sugar. (23)

Here are some helpful tips for improving your protein intake:

  • Fill ¼ of your plate with protein foods.
  • Both plant and animal protein foods are important and provide essential nutrients.
  • Be portion conscientious. Choose smaller portions of higher-quality animal proteins.
  • Focus on nutrient-rich sources of dairy and choose a fat content that works within your overall diet.
  • Go plant-forward! You do not have to follow a vegan or vegetarian diet to enjoy the benefits of plant proteins. 
  • Join the bean team! Beans are one of the best “superfoods” you can eat.

Fats and Oils

Rather than restricting fat, we should celebrate it for its health benefits and flavor. Fat helps us absorb vitamins, provides our bodies with energy, supports cell functions, protects our organs, aids hormone production, keeps our bodies warm, and more. Unsaturated fats protect our hearts, help prevent cancer, and promote brain health. (24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30)

Further, fat enhances mouthfeel, improves texture, and provides a feeling of satiety and satisfaction. Aim to include more health-promoting monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats—especially omega 3s—in your diet. Fish, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive oil are all excellent sources of mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Limit (don’t eliminate) saturated fats from foods such as red meat, dairy, and coconut oil. In excess, saturated fats are harmful to our hearts.

Here are some helpful tips for improving your fat intake:

  • Don’t fear fat! Fat adds flavor, texture, and nutrition.
  • Make extra virgin olive oil your go-to oil.
  • Include omega-3s from fatty fish, nuts, and seeds for brain and heart health.

Flavor

When discussing food choices, we can not forget about flavor! Flavor has a huge influence on what we choose to eat—it’s how we decide whether we like or dislike a food! Unfortunately, salt, sugar, fat, and added artificial and natural flavors have become the dominant flavors of the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Focusing on flavors beyond salt and sugar can increase your consumption of healthful foods and thereby improve your health. Spices and herbs are not only flavorful, but they are packed with powerful disease-fighting phytonutrients. Learning basic culinary techniques and flavor balancing skills is a great way to take your healthy meals from ordinary to extraordinary!

Here are some helpful tips for improving the flavor of your meals:

  • Go beyond salt and sugar! Spices, herbs, oils, acids, and high-quality ingredients can provide distinct and delicious flavors to meals.
  • Basic culinary techniques, flavor balancing, and taste testing as you go can help build flavor into your recipes.

Beverages

We can’t forget about the impact drinks have on our health. Water reigns supreme, as our bodies are 60–70% water. Our cells, gut bacteria, organs, joints, bones, and ligaments depend on adequate hydration to function. It is important to limit sugar sweetened beverages, and there are a multitude of other beverage options you can drink for fun, variety, and health benefits. Tea, coffee, sparkling waters, kombucha, 100% juice, kefir, milk, plant based milks, and non-sugar sweetened alcohol all have a spot on The Whole Life Plate™.

Here are some helpful tips for improving your beverages:

  • Find ways to increase your water intake—make infused water, use a fun water bottle, set up visual cues, etc.
  • Rethink your drink. Ask yourself if there is a more nutritious alternative.
  • Pump the brakes on sugar. Limit your total added sugar intake from both foods and beverages to less than 24 grams per day for women and children and less than 36 grams per day for men.
  • Sip slowly. If choosing a more indulgent beverage—alcohol, fancy coffee drinks, milkshakes, etc.—take the time to savor and enjoy the beverage.

Lifestyle Factors

In addition to guidelines for food and beverages, The Whole Life Plate™ includes sustainability, mindfulness, and movement. To truly life your best life, these should be part of your everyday behaviors. 

Sustainability

Sustainability might seem like a trendy buzzword, but it is truly something we all should think about in our daily lives. We included sustainability in this book because it is important that we discuss how future generations, including our children and grandchildren, have access to all of the same resources we do today.

Here are some helpful tips for improving your kitchen sustainability:

  • Eat more plants, as outlined in The Whole Life Plate™.
  • Be mindful with meat. By and large, meat contributes more greenhouse gasses to the environment than plants do.
  • Limit ultra-processed foods.
  • Research your seafood. Choose sustainable options.
  • Buy local and seasonal whenever possible.
  • Reduce food and packaging waste.
  • Cook!

Mindfulness

Mindful eating is the practice of enjoying food with understanding and compassion. (31) Simply put, it’s paying attention to what you are eating, rather than eating in the car, above the sink, or in front of the television.

By increasing your awareness and appreciation of the sensations you experience while eating, you can improve your relationship with food, discover the foods that make you feel your best, and promote your long-term health. Mindful eating can encourage healthy behaviors and may prevent weight gain. (32, 33, 34)

Here are some helpful tips for practicing mindfulness:

  • Ask the four questions of mindful eating during meals and snacks: What? Why? How much? and How?
  • Apply your common senses while eating: sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound.
  • Employ the three Es: express, engage, and enjoy!

Movement

Physical activity and nutrition go hand in hand; the foods you eat influence the energy you have to move, and the movement you do will hopefully inspire you to eat more nutritiously! It’s no surprise that individuals who get regular physical activity have lower rates of obesity, heart disease, cognitive decline, and depression and report a higher quality of life. (35, 36)

Both the World Health Organization and the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity (75 minutes vigorous activity) and up to 300 minutes of moderate activity (150 minutes vigorous activity) per week. Including at least two strength-training or resistance exercise sessions per week in addition to aerobic activity provides further benefits. (35, 37)

Movement includes anything from hiking mountains, taking the dog for a walk, dancing with your kids, or even kneading pizza dough! It all adds up!

Here are some helpful tips for increasing movement:

  • Make physical activity a part of your everyday life and routines.
  • Stay consistent. Consistency over time leads to lasting benefits and results.
  • Have fun! Do forms of movement that you enjoy.

Want to learn more?

The Whole Life Plate™ can truly be life changing and will make you feel better! If you want to learn more, purchase our soon-to-be released book – To Your Taste. It goes into more detail than this article covered and provides recipes, resources, and tools to guarantee culinary nutrition success. We dedicated this book to YOU, so please enjoy and pass it on!

To YOUR Taste!

The To Taste Team 🙂

Picture of Vahista Ussery, MS, MBA, RDN

Vahista Ussery, MS, MBA, RDN

Chef Vahista is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist/Chef. She is one of the founders of To Taste and is passionate about educating individuals and communities about nutrition principles and culinary skills.

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. If you click on those links and make a purchase, we will earn a small percentage of the sale, at no extra cost to you. 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Maneck bhart

    Nicely laid out

  2. Joan Denton

    Congratulations on your book, Vahista! This looks like a great read, especially for someone desiring to make some healthy lifestyle changes. Easy to follow and backed by science= success.

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